Considering the level of overindulgence we may have enjoyed during the holidays, now is the time to get back on track and reinforce healthy nutrition habits. These meal-planning tips will give you a head-start.
Put Meal Planning Into Perspective
I suggest three areas of focus as you engage in creating your nutrition plan: language, meal planning, and grocery shopping.
The word diet has carries a negative connotation. It implies deprivation and becomes somewhat daunting when considering changes. I like to use phrases like nutritional intake, food preferences or culinary choices. These provide a different perspective and denote choices, which are more empowering. Selecting your own version as you approach meal planning will help to create an ongoing lifestyle, as opposed to a periodic diet.
How often do you come home from work and think, “What am I going to make for dinner?” Planning ahead can make this somewhat cumbersome event more fun and less burdensome. Forecasting your meals each week can help create cost and time savings, as well as provide the opportunity to maximize healthy selections.
I recommend making this a family event. Whether you’re alone, have a spouse or domestic partner, or have children at home, including all family members can give ownership to each person and get buy-in when it comes time to prepare the meals. Allowing each person to contribute their favorite food to the list gives them a sense of inclusion. Having a standard time for this activity can help to keep your planning on track and the gathering can become a family night event.
Once the meals are selected, assemble recipes, and create your grocery list. This is extremely useful to minimize the number of grocery store trips.
5 Easy Meal Planning Tips
- Select a regular time each week to plan meals for the week.
- Make meal planning a family activity.
- Create a grocery list.
- Plan one shopping trip; focus on quality ingredients.
- Plan to spend time prepping for the week’s meals.
Here is the list I planned for dinners over the next week:
- Honey Roasted Cornish Hens, Confetti Rice, Steamed Broccoli
- Chicken Fried Rice – Contains All Elements of An Entire Meal in One Dish
- Beef Tenderloin & Dunderi (Ricotto Gnocchi), Sautéed Spinach, Tomato & Cucumber Salad
- Killer Salad – All of my husband’s favorite salad fixings, chocked full of protein and fresh veggies
- Pistachio Crusted Pacific Cod, Seared Asparagus, Garlic Mash Yams
By planning all of these at one time, I can benefit from economies of scale. For example, the confetti rice requires only ½ of red and green bell peppers. I will use the other half in the “killer salad” dinner. Likewise, I can split a packet of cherry tomatoes to include some in both salads indicated in the list. This helps to prevent food waste as well.
I will make the dunderi as a side dish for the tenderloin, and because one recipe makes a lot, I can save the rest for a main dish next week, in which I will add our favorite meaty tomato sauce. The beauty of this exercise is that I was able to keep the average cost of the meals collectively at just over $3 per person per meal. Planning can be very economical!
As I completed my pantry makeovers, I began focusing on reading the labels while I am shopping, to understand exactly what is in the foods.
To recap, avoid or minimize the following ingredients: food dyes, trans fats, MSG, high fructose corn syrup, GMOs, artificial flavors & sweeteners, and low-fat/processed foods.
In considering “natural flavors,” I’ve called producers in the past to ask what those were, but I am more often than not told that this is proprietary information. So, I just do the best I can to select the best ingredients for my meals.
One of my favorite appetizers that I serve often during the holidays is shrimp cocktail. When I started focusing on ingredients, I noticed a vast difference in how cocktail sauce is made, and could not find one without high fructose corn syrup. Also, the cost of $2.99 per 8 ounces is more than twice the cost of making it from scratch, which only takes about 5 minutes.
So, I started making my own cocktail sauce using organic tomato paste, ketchup, and lemons; and hot sauce, using lemon juice and horseradish. In selecting the type of horseradish to use, I saw the following labels:
If a “food” has multiple ingredients you don’t understand, chances are it’s not healthy for you! I’m sure you already know that I chose the second one. I cannot determine what “natural flavor” is included and the producer would not share details. As I stated previously, just do the best you can!
When choosing both meals and ingredients, fruits and vegetables are best when they are closest to their original state, as fresh as possible. If you have a choice between fresh onions versus frozen/cut onions, for example, it is always best to select the fresh ones and cut them up yourself.
The bottom line for grocery shopping is to select fresh when possible and read labels to prevent getting ingredients you do not want. Additionally, I am careful to select organic products when possible. However, it’s more important to eat ANY fresh fruits and vegetables, especially when considering the cost.
Here are some healthy dinner recipes to try:
Chicken Fried Rice
- 3 T peanut oil
- 2 T sesame oil
- 2 eggs, beaten with a pinch of salt
- ½ c green onions, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ c carrots, chopped
- ½ c mushrooms, chopped
- 1 ½ c chicken, cooked, chopped into small pieces
- 3 c cooked rice
- 1 c peas (frozen is best)
- ¼ c soy sauce
Put 1 T peanut oil into hot pan or wok. Add eggs; cook until done and remove to another dish. Chop into small pieces. Add 2 T peanut oil to pan; when hot, add green onions, carrots, mushrooms and garlic. Cook for two minutes, then add 2 T sesame oil, chicken and rice. Cook through and add peas and soy sauce. Continue cooking until liquids are completely absorbed.
Pistachio Crusted Cod
- 1/3 c crushed pistachios (about 50, I use a food processor)
- 1/3 c panko bread crumbs
- 4 T c flour
- 1 egg, beaten with 1 T water
- 1 t garlic powder
- 2 T olive oil
- 2 cod filets (approx. 4 oz each)
Mix pistachios and panko together; set aside. Coat cod filets in flour; dip in egg mixture, then coat completely with pistachio/panko mixture. Heat cooking pan for 1 minute, then add oil. When hot, add filets to pan. Cook for 2 minutes on each side and remove to a paper towel to absorb any excess oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to your taste.